Maanja

After almost three years of longing, Uttarayan – the famous Gujarati festival of kites coincided with a Sunday and I planned a one-day trip to Ahmedabad. My old friends living there were ready to welcome me, Ravi promised to teach me to fly kites, and I was already bubbling with excitement.

I called Ravi when I boarded the bus the earlier night. His father spoke from the other side. He told me, “Ravi can’t speak.. He has caught with an accident. Uska gala kat gaya. (He got his throat cut). ”

Cut his throat? I swallowed in anguish and listened further. My friend had gotten his neck entangled in manja (kite thread coated with glass powder) while riding his bike and gotten a deep cut on his neck. I had absolutely not anticipated this threat. Also my kite flying lessons were off, obviously.

After a quick shower and breakfast, I left for riverfront, where locals gather for flying kites and  competitions. With a camera hanging from my neck, I walked from the outskirts to the city centre. Clicking pictures and letting people believe that I was going to print their pictures in the newspaper the next day. Kids with running noses ran behind me for pictures leaving their Undhiyo-Jalebi packets behind.

I went to see Ravi after hanging around the city in the morning. All rooftops on the way, be it high-rise buildings or a slum, were dotted with kids and adults busy preparing their kites, flying them and trying hard to cut someone else’s. Many bikes had a tall thin bent pole affixed on the handle for stopping the manjas. At home, Ravi’s brother was getting ready for flying kites with his friends. Along with preparing his kites and manja roll, sticking thick tapes around fingers, palms and covering the face and neck with kerchiefs was part of the preparation too.

I knew about birds getting injured during kite flying. And though not explicitly expressed so, I guess I must have thought, ‘why aren’t these birds more careful’! Now that I heard of and saw people being injured, the gravity started sinking in.

I went back to the riverfront to find the International Kite Festival. I had another group of friends to meet here. I ignored the sadness set on my mind for a while and watched different shapes and patterns of kites amusedly. Didn’t even realise when the sun set.

I had a bus to catch. So we got on the bikes. No helmets, only a scarf around the neck. They told me there wouldn’t be any danger of manjas so late. 

I was riding with Jinal. Our bikes went zooming, dancing around the road, typical Amdavadi style.

Suddenly, at a blink of an eye, I saw two guys by the side of the road trying to get their kite up in the air from ground. The next moment, the manja was around Jinal’s neck. She could not stop the bike in the flowing traffic. Struggling for a few seconds, she untangled the manja.. I was still startled and my eyes still wide.. And Jinal turned her head, laughed jovially and zoomed again.


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